Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Missing the target

In an op-ed piece by Frank Bruni in the New York Times, an exasperated commenter wrote:
When will our President and Congress stand up to the NRA?
I've read some variant of this sentiment a lot in the last four days, and so have you.

The thing is, it's kind of misdirected.

We citizens have a bad habit of ascribing villainy to powerful interest groups with lots of money who bend our lawmakers to their will. The NRA is today's highlighted villain. The banking industry has filled this role fairly often in the past five years. Name the interest group, and millions of your fellow citizens have vilified it as corrupting our electoral and legislative processes.

Yet all these groups represent the interests of some of us.

Granted, a lot of these groups don't represent a large number of people: lobbyists for various industries (banking, energy, pharmaceuticals, etc.) can only be said to represent those who work in those industries (in general). But what about other lobbyists, like those representing religious or environmental organizations? Those lobbyists are potentially acting on behalf of millions of us who support those organizations with our contributions.

Now, there are groups that appear to represent the interests of a lot of people, but in reality act on behalf of only a handful. The National Rifle Association, though, is not one of them. Although its critics accuse it of advancing the interests of gun manufacturers rather than gun owners, there's no denying that millions of people are paid-up members, and that millions more agree with its positions.

It's easy, though, to forget all those millions of supporters, and to imagine that groups like the NRA are malevolent creatures with their own lives. "Standing up" to those groups thus conjures the image of St. George fighting the dragon. The reality, though, is that the NRA isn't a malevolent creature: it's a megaphone for millions of people. If elected officials hesitate to resist it it's because those officials know that a lot of their constituents agree with the NRA. Those officials can argue that they're just being responsive to those who voted for them.

If you don't like the positions the NRA advocates, stop trying to fight it directly. Instead, work on those you know who agree with it. The NRA will cease to be a political force in this country only when this country's culture changes.

No comments:

Post a Comment